Whatever Happened To Siculate Lunate Sigmas?

In the thirty years since I first heard of them, I’ve had the vague impression that siculate lunate sigmas, like adscript iotas for the traditional subscripts and use of capital V and small u for both vowels and consonants in Latin texts, were the coming thing, and that more and more editions were using them. When I went to look for some examples a few nights ago to show my students, I was surprised how difficult it was to find any. Of a dozen or two texts from the last half-century, a mixture of Oxford, Teubner, and Budé editions, only Sandbach’s Oxford Classical Text of Menander uses them. Have they gone back out of style? Is this a fad convention that never really caught on? Or was my selection unrepresentative? If so, can someone give some other examples? I don’t doubt that siculate sigmas are abundant in the pages of ZPE and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and similar collections, but they are far rarer in standard reading texts than I had thought.

Finding one text was easy, even if a second has proved elusive. I began my sigma-hunting with Menander because of something that happened to me in graduate school. A neighbor in my apartment building was a third-world immigrant who had gone to the best prep school in his home country, where he had taken (I think it was) 8 years of Latin and 4 of Greek. Though studying other subjects in the U.S., he had decided to brush up both languages, and sent away for the Oxford texts of Vergil and Menander. When they arrived, he consulted me in a panic, wondering if he should send them both back as defective, since the Menander had a lot of Latin Cs where he expected Greek sigmas, and the Vergil had vowels for consonants and consonants for vowels. Vrbs antiqua fuit on the first page of the Aeneid particularly distressed him: “Verbs ahn-tee-kwa foo-it ? Verbs ? What is this Verbs ?”

Update: (10/2, 8:15am)

I’ve changed ‘siculate’ to ‘lunate’ above, since it seems to be more familiar. In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether I remembered it wrong, since ‘siculate’, “sickle-shaped”, might well describe the traditional end-of-word small sigma. The few dictionaries at hand don’t seem to recognize the usage.

As for examples, the only other texts I’ve found so far that use lunate sigmas are Diggle’s Oxford Classical Text of the Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta Selecta (1998) and his Cambridge editions of Euripides’ Phaethon (1970) and Theophrastus’ Characters (2004). There are certainly plenty of texts of authors surviving only (or primarily) in papyri that do not use them, e.g. Cunningham’s Teubner Herondas. Time for a more thorough check? I’ve just about finished unpacking my books, so it wouldn’t be too strenuous.

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